South American and Caribbean countries affected by the trans-atlantic slave trade and coloisation have continued cooperation on the issue of reparatory justice. The following is a copy of a presentation the Chairman of the Saint Lucian NRC made at a recently held international workshop for the movement. Happy Reading!!!
Forming a National Reparations Commission – Experiences from the Global Movement
Presentation by Earl Bousquet, Chairman of the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) to the international workshop ‘From Reparations in Transitional Justice to Historic Reparations for the Afro-descendant People of Colombia, March 21-23, 2017 in Cali, Colombia
VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY
Voyages of discovery are always the essential first step in any direction towards finding our roots and this stands equally true in our quests for Reparations.
In my previous travels by sea and air to various ports and cities in South America, whenever I saw people of African descent I always wondered how they got there.
Where I come from – in the English-speaking Caribbean, the former British West Indies — we heard there was Slavery in Brazil and Cuba. We also had/have lots of relatives (who we never saw or met) in Panama, where they went to build the Canal. But never heard of Black slave descendants in Colombia, or Chile, or Mexico, even Venezuela.
My last such experience in Chile in November 2016, inspired an article in which I expressed regret that there was no place in Santiago I could have gone to find and/or see a history of ‘Blacks in Chile’. But then, what I found was that Blacks were not even mentioned as a race or ethnic group in the official demography statistics.
I got the same feeling a few years ago when I first visited Colombia. On a visit to a hospital in Bucaramanga, the first and only Black person I saw was an old lady selling candied condiments on a sidewalk. Her display of home-made coconut and peanut-based candied condiments reminded me of other elder ladies like her selling exactly the same products at home, outside schools and cinemas, in similarly-shaped trays.
I left the visiting group of fellow Saint Lucians walked over to purchase some of the sugared fare, not just to eat and share, but also to take back home to show that “geggesh” (as we loosely call it) is also made the same way in Colombia.
Time wasn’t on my side, so I couldn’t ask the smiling lady where her people came from.
My limited awareness of the African presence in South America comes from a seminal book entitles They Came Before Columbus. It was written by Guyanese novelist Ivan Van Sertima as far back as 1976 and tells the whole story of how Africans came to this part of the world before Columbus first set eyes in 1492 on what he thought was a western part of India, which the Europeans eventually named the ‘West Indies’.
Three years earlier, the celebrated Uruguayan journalist Edward Galleano had in 1973 penned Open Veins of Latin America, in which he covered ‘five centuries of the pillage of a continent’.
Between these two texts we will find all we need to know about how we came to be whom, what and where we are, why, when and how.
Reparations have been paid and made in several parts of the world and are still being sought and/or demanded in others. And in still many other cases, the cases are only just being made.
The Reparations issues vary, but in all instances they are the same: humans seeking apology and atonement for inhuman treatment and historical wrongs that never saw justice.
In 2013, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) became the first group of nations in any region or part of the world to pursue Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide.
It is important to note that this is the first time that a group of governments of independent nations has made or is making a case for Reparations against another group of states, the European Union (EU), whose member-states devised, imposed and benefitted their wealth through Slavery, undoubtedly the worst crime against humanity ever.
Before that too, genocidal terror was used to virtually exterminate the original indigenous Amerindians they met in these islands and continental territories they claimed to have ‘discovered’.
The Caribbean having agreed to invite the EU to dialogue on an approach to Reparations — failing which CARICOM can also go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) — a CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) and a Sub-committee of Heads Responsible for Reparations were established and each member-state was invited to also establish a National Reparations Committee (NRC).
The role of each NRC is to assist the Government to implement CARICOM’s decisions in each territory and to work at the regional level, with and through the Commission, with each NRC Chairman being a member of the Commission.
The Saint Lucia NRC was appointed by the Prime Minister in November 2013, with an indefinite term.
It comprises nine members, representing organizations and appointed in their individual capacities.
The NRC operates autonomously, but reports to the Prime Minister through the Department of Regional Integration and Diaspora Affairs, headed by the Saint Lucia Ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS.
Our first three years have been bitter and sweet: We have never received government funding, but our work is both continuing and expanding.
We spent our first year (2014) learning the ropes an establishing the national and regional base for future work.
In our second year (2015), we consolidated our national base and worked quietly to broaden our reach, issuing press releases, participating in related activities and co-hosting activities with member-organizations.
Our third year (2016) was our best so far, starting with the launching of our Facebook page and planning for a major one-night event in the middle August to observe a series of Emancipation and Reparations-related anniversaries.
On August 17, to coincide with the birth anniversary of Marcus Garvey, we hosted a Colloquy on Slavery and Emancipation, Marcus Garvey, Reparations and the U.N. Decade for People of African Descent.
That event, which was broadcast live on radio and TV across the region and streamed through the Internet, also featured the launching of a year-long Reparations Lecture Series and the new two-month-old Government of Saint Lucia reaffirmed its commitment to observance of the Decade for People of African Descent in Saint Lucia.
Also in the second half of 2016, with permission from the Ministry of Education, the NRC launched a series of Reparations Lectures at the island’s 24 Secondary Schools and a series of community-based lectures. The school lectures are also resulting in growing student interest in not only Slavery and Reparations, but also the UN Decade for People of African Descent.
In October, the NRC hosted a CARICOM Reparations Youth Rally and a CARICOM Reparations Baton Relay, both of which were also broadcast live, with participation of the two Saint Lucia CARICOM Youth Ambassadors and support from CARICOM’s Program Director for Regional Integration and Community Relations and a Communications team from the Secretariat.
The CARICOM Coordinators for Reparations and Youth also attended and the Saint Lucia experiences allowed the CARICOM Secretariat and the CRC to have extracted notes for a ‘Handbook’ for Rallies, Relays and Youth Forums.
We have started 2017 on a good footing.
A generous young Saint Lucian writer has produced a Children’s storybook on Reparations and donated it to the NRC as a free contribution to the cause and we plan to launch it publicly soon.
Also on our 2017 Plan of Action are: hosting an African Liberation Day activity for May 25-26, a Youth Forum on Reparations, activities for the UN Decade, continuation of our schools and community lectures, launching our own website and linking-up with the CRC and CARICOM Websites, establishment of a Calendar of Significant Dates, a 2017 Colloquy, observing Creole Heritage Month (October), strengthening communication, cooperation and coordination with the CRC and fellow NRCs and reaching out to other Reparations causes and movements.
We also started 2017 on a note of cautious optimism, with the new Prime Minister having assured that he will not only maintain the same composition of the NRC, but also make an allocation in the 2017-2018 national budget for it.
Another breeze of optimism also came from the President of the Senate, who attended the 2016 Colloquy with the Acting Governor General, the Acting Prime Minister (and Education Minister), along with members of the diplomatic corps. He has invited the NRC to address parliamentarians on the issue of CARICOM’s quest for Reparations.
Participation in this conference in Colombia is another hallmark for us this year.
LESSONS TO SHARE
How did the Saint Lucia NRC get to where we’re at and what experiences can we share? To answer, I have applied a formula I always use as a journalist, by asking five questions using what I call The 5W+1 Formula.
The five questions are: Who? What? When? Why? Where?
And then comes the next big question: How?
No full story can be told that doesn’t answer these six questions. The answer to the last question (How) is the essence of what we will do. But to decide How, we have to ask and answer two more questions: What is to be Done? and Where to Begin?
I will try to answer the above questions briefly and hope they will generate the questions, comments or observations we look forward to in exchanges like these.
Who are we?
We are rebels with a cause, heirs and successors of early African mariners shipwrecked a world away from home and descendants of Africans kidnapped centuries later and sold into Slavery in this same part of the world.
What do we want?
We want Acknowledgement, Apology and Atonement. CARICOM is seeking Reparatory Justice through a formula that accepts history and allows for an agreed approach to atonement. The Heads of Government and the Commission have identified Six Conditions across the Caribbean today that are direct consequences of slavery and Ten Points for pursuit of Reparatory Justice. This uniform approach applies to each country and all NRCs have the similar objective: to pursue all that needs be done to ensure that the people we speak for do understand what we want and why.
When do we want it?
History and time are on our side, but it is not we/us who will decide when and how the Europeans will listen and act. However, Reparations have been on the Caribbean agenda as far back as 1897, when Saint Lucia-born surveyor John Quinlan addressed Queen Victoria’s Royal Commission on Apartheid on behalf of the Pan African Congress (PAC). Marcus Garvey later carried the Repatriation and Reparations flags, both of which were later also kept flying by the Rastafarian community in Jamaica — and then across the region. Now is another peak moment, with over a dozen Caribbean governments representing majority Afro Caribbean nations, taking the battle to the next and highest possible stage: making the Reparations case, presenting it and seeking atonement. Reparatory Justice is not just long overdue, but also always important to achieve at the earliest. The call therefore always has to be for ‘Reparations Now!’
Why do we want it?
Because Reparations are long overdue! Our ancestors resisted Slavery from the day they were kidnapped in Africa, all along the way to the Caribbean, throughout their long years on the plantations and until their resistance led to so-called Emancipation and Abolition of Slavery. But 50 years after Abolition, Quinlan and the PAC were complaining to the Queen that the former slaves were no better off — and in the absence of real freedom, most wanted atonement or would rather be sent to Africa. The atonement we seek is not compensation for broken contracts, but payment of wages of sin. We are not seeking to collect cheques at the national treasury at the end of every month as our ‘grandfather’s back pay’. . Instead, we are seeking the kind of atonement that will address past ills and open the way for us to start to better navigate our future. The heirs and successors of the slave masters on both sides of the Atlantic bequeathed the benefits of slavery to their kith and kin, while the poverty and wretchedness piled on the backs of our ancestors have been inherited by us over succeeding generations. The mortal sinners left no Last Wills and Testaments to atone for their wicked ways, which is why the descendants of those they wronged must do all we can, to seek and get that atonement. Slavery in its time built the British Empire and the European colonial state; in these times, it is the duty of governments elected by the descendants of African slaves to engage the European governments that have inherited the eternal debt for Slavery.
Where do we want it?
We want Reparations everywhere it applies: across the Caribbean and The Americas (North, Central and South) — everywhere Slavery touched in this part of our world. CARICOM is pursuing Reparations from Britain, France and EU member-states for ‘Slavery and Native Genocide’ — not only for the trade in humans and its effects, but also for the earlier European genocide to exterminate the native populations they met. As the Reparations cause takes different shapes over time in different places, we want Reparations too for affected African descendants in Colombia, as well as in Brazil, Chile and other South American nations. We also want Reparations for African Americans in the USA – and indeed all over The Americas, because Black Lives Do Matter everywhere!
How to build a NRC?
That’s the big question before us: how to form and build a National Reparations Committee or Commission. The name doesn’t matter as much as what it is — and what it does. But any NRC has to not only introduce and win people over to the cause, but also let them know how we can win this battle. Success has eluded all our predecessors, so the question of ‘How’ is fundamental if we are to convince ourselves, first and foremost, that we are not just serious, but we also have workable plans, the success of which will determine if and when Reparations will come.
The CARICOM plan is being implemented at the national levels by the NRCs. But it is tailored for our region because of our specificities – the most important being that our quest is being led by Governments of majority Black populations and nations.
It’s a different scenario in minority-Black USA, where the Reparations cause is also for Slavery, but also with its own particular national characteristics — including a hostile majority and a hostile state. It’s also different in South America, where no government has had pay Reparations to African descendants for Slavery.
The narrative for this conference also mentions the need to look at reparations not just for Slavery, but also for Colonialism and post-colonial Institutional Racism. Here too, the goal and objective identified will determine the ‘How’. But in general, there are certain methods that are also universal.
And now to the two final questions…
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
In the absence of government support or in the presence of a hostile state, like minds in Colombia will have to link and gather to discuss the answers to each of the first 5Ws (Who, What, When, Why and Where) to arrive at the conclusions to determine where to begin. Here we offer six elements for consideration.
- PLOT THE PLAN: The answers to these questions are available, so they need to be gathered and tabled by and among those who will lead the way for Reparations for Colombians of African descent.
- BE READY FOR THE FIGHT: It will be a tough and thankless battle at the very start. There will be financial and logistical challenges. Not every plan will work. There will be times when we will ask ourselves: “Will Reparations ever come?” At these times, we will have to redouble our commitment and recall that those who led the slave revolts or organized the secret freedom passages were not paid. This is a continuing phase of an ongoing struggle and it’s not a job to be paid for or an activity to expect reward. Our just reward will be the ultimate achievement of our goal.
- GATHER THE RESOURCES: Each Reparations cause has its own story that must be sought and learned, told and shared. It is for us all to share our different stories, but also for each of us to do the necessary ongoing research to record and share existing historical accounts. We must also use the ‘Oral History’ recorded in the minds of the elders among us, which is not necessarily written, but always verifiable. The Research and Documentation aspect of our work is ongoing and never stops, so enough has to be done to ensure its continuity by putting it in capable hands and everyone feeding into it.
- MAKE THE CASE: Every Reparations cause has its case or cases, depending on what is/are being sought. Making the legal case is essential, not only for a court of law, but also to convince those who still harbor doubts. More than just the Doubting Thomases, we also have to contend with those who will tell us we are fighting a losing battle, that we cannot force children to pay for their parents’ sins, that the UK and/or the US has given back enough by way of aid and ‘affirmative actions’ in favour of minorities, or that we are simply looking to unreasonably fleece or scheme the UK, Europe and the USA to pay debts they did not incur, or because slavery was legal at the time. The legal case(s) must be made in each case and a good start will be to study the several successful Reparations cases historically, including the Jews compensated for Hitler’s Holocaust, the Kenyan Mau Mau tribesmen compensated for British anti-independence atrocities and the Japanese locked-up by the USA during World War II.
- CELEBRATE AND COMMEMORATE: Dates of related national significance must be noted and observed, both traditional and new, international and regional. They can then fit into annual anniversary activities that will help the cause – from African Liberation and Emancipation days to observances of the birth anniversary of Marcus Garvey and other such historical personalities of the global reparations cause.
- FACE UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS: The sons and daughters of the heirs and successors of the slave masters in Europe and the Caribbean are naturally afraid that our Reparations demands will not only expose them but lead to them being asked to also atone. Just as there will be people of African descent today who will not support Reparations demands, there will also be those among the inheritors of the spoils of slavery who will consider it in their interest to listen to what we have to say about where they and their inheritances stand in our vision of things. This dialogue is critical where possible and each NRC should find the requisite way to handle it. The discussion must also include the fact that in the CARICOM case, today’s representatives of yesteryear’s slave-owning class are also born-and-bred citizens of the same land. It is in this regard that the Saint Lucia NRC says ‘Reparations is for the benefit of us all!’ because Africans are in the vast majority — and hold political (voting) and state power.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
All the above – and much more — done, then the following five actions can lead to the formation and eventual launching of a NRC:
- PLOT AN ACTION PLAN: A Plan of Action should be crafted to spread the word among those who will support and be part of the movement and those who it is aimed for and at: in this case ‘the Afro-descendant people in Colombia’.
- BULD ALLIANCES: Build alliances among and between the affected and the interested to implement the Plan – youth, women, teachers and students, cultural organizations, historical societies, archaeological groups, journalists, authors, writers and artists, etc. These alliances are important to build the platforms from which the movement will take off.
- SPREAD THE WORD: Communicate the Reparations Message through old and new media, utilizing all available means – traditional and mainstream, ITC and New Media avenues, as well as through traditional cultural communications means that have survived over time and are still effective among the people to be reached. It will be very useful, for example, for NRCs to have dedicated columns in local and national mainstream and online newspapers, fed by sympathetic columnists. Similarly, the young and the Internet-minded can post information into the clouds in so many innovative ways that will also attract the youth, who are absolutely necessary in and to this cause.
- TARGET SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES: Targeting schools and working with teachers and students, then entering the communities the students come from, is a sure start anywhere as these are inquiring and receptive minds with all the questions we need to answer. The students will want to know why they never learned these things at school, but the older generation in the communities will want to know if Reparations will be realized during their lifetime.
- BUILD AND MAINTAIN LINKAGES: The Reparations struggle is alive everywhere it has been given life and it will be necessary for each cause to be linked with others to build the connectivity across seas, skies and borders that will be necessary to sustain the Reparations Movement globally. This conference is a perfect start for the connection between the CARICOM Reparations Movement and that of Colombia, as well as every other movement and cause represented here. CARICOM has also shared its template with the US Congressional Black Caucus and those preparing to launch the US Reparations case in Washington. The African Union and the Pan African Congress, as well as individual African states, have also been showing increased interest in the Caribbean’s Reparations cause. The relevant United Nations (UN) sub-committees, as well as the Caribbean and Latin American groupings (CELAC, ALBA and PetroCaribe, etc.) all support the CARICOM Reparations Cause. Through the CARICOM Commission and the NRCs, the added entities identified and/or represented here will be able to share equal access to and maintain linkages with the global movement.
This is by no means a perfect blueprint or a TO DO List for establishment of a NRC. But we hope these few experiences shared will sufficiently encourage our Colombian brothers and sisters, first and foremost, to continue with the first moves they have started that led to this conference.
We are here celebrating the launching of one more front in the ongoing global battle for Reparations everywhere. It is now for us to ensure that our movement fires on all pistons as we engineer our way today to achieve what eluded our forebears forever, but which, for the very first time, is within visible reach.
Reparations are possible tomorrow, but only if we select the proper targets, aim well and shoot straight.
Our demands have to be well-founded and well-presented, primarily to our people, but just as important to those from whom we ask for and expect Reparatory Justice.
Consistency yields positive results and keeping Reparations on the national, regional, continental and global agendas for discussion and action does yield positive progress, as has been the CARICOM experience.
Here’s to a great future of cooperation between us all in the common fight for Reparations in each case — and as the ultimate global objective.
Thanks for your patience!